In The Sun
After growing up without a local sports role model to look up to, Las Vegas native CJ Watson is doing his best to take on that mantle.
SLAM: Where were you were raised?
CJ Watson: I grew up in Las Vegas, with my little brother and two parents, and they kept us into basketball and different activities just to keep us out of trouble. I fell in love with the game of basketball and was pretty good at it, so I just kept playing.
SLAM: What’d your parents do for a living?
CW: My dad owned his own janitorial business, and my mom worked for the city, in Parks and Recreation. We struggled at first, but once my parents both started working we were middle class after that.
SLAM: Las Vegas obviously doesn’t have an NBA team—who’d you grow up rooting for?
CW: The Lakers. My favorite player was Magic. The way he played—he was a pass-first point guard, and I really liked his game. In transition he was always playing the up-and-down game, in that Showtime era, with the flashy passes and all that kind of stuff. I really just like the way he played—unselfish, I guess.
SLAM: What about other sports?
CW: The Ravens for football, and of course the Yankees for baseball. There’s no teams in Vegas so I just picked anybody.
SLAM: Did you play other sports?
CW: I ran track and field and I played a little football, but it was too hot in Vegas, so I stopped. Football’s pretty big in Vegas, especially high school, but not a lot of players really come out of Vegas.
SLAM: How old were you when you started playing ball? And how’d you get into it?
CW: Probably 6 or 7. Both my parents played basketball, and my dad pushed me and my brother [Kashif] all the time. I always played at the parks and local gyms and stuff like that, so I just kept playing.
SLAM: At what point did you start to think seriously about the NBA? In high school?
CW: Not really. I played basketball just to play and to also get a free education. I knew my parents couldn’t pay for college, so I had to somehow get into college and basketball was the only way. I kept my grades up and just kept playing, and went to [the University of Tennessee], the best school I wanted to go to.
SLAM: And your high school retired your jersey, right?
CW: Yeah, me and my brother’s. It’s the same number. I won two state championships, and he won one, and the athletic administrator told my brother that if he won a championship they would retire our jerseys. So, he won it.
SLAM: Do you ever give him crap that you won two and he only won one?
CW: Yeah, I have a lot more accolades than he does [laughs].
SLAM: We heard you played at one of Baron Davis’ camps as a kid, which is pretty great because you guys later became teammates.
CW: Yeah, I went to his camp as a camper, and then as a counselor, and he was always one of my favorite players. Then we played on the same team together, and now we’re good friends, still. He’s like a big brother to me.
SLAM: Tell us about your Quiet Storm Foundation.
CW: My family and I started it three years ago. When I was growing up, my parents and I always worked at homeless shelters and churches helping the less fortunate. I thought that since I’m in a position to give back again now, I should. That’s what the foundation is all about. We have a free basketball camp in the summers for kids back in Vegas and we have a back-to-school event with free supplies for the kids. It’s doing good right now. Hopefully we just keep getting bigger and bigger. It’s cool because I never had an NBA player where I’m from or from my city to look up to or model myself after, so to see the smiles on these kids’ faces, to know that they watch the games and cheer for the team I play for, it’s pretty cool.